Meet the Inspiring Girls of the New CNN Documentary "We Will Rise"
This week, First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated International Day of the Girl with a global discussion about education equality. The event, which took place in Washington, D.C. and featured girls from all over the world, brought together Glamour magazine's nonprofit arm, The Girl Project, with Mrs. Obama's Let Girls Learn initiative.
But the conversation won’t stop there: On Wednesday night, CNN will premiere the documentary We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World, which follows the First Lady — joined by actresses Meryl Streep and Frida Pinto, and journalist Isha Sesay — on a trip to Liberia and Morocco, where they meet girls who have overcome incredible obstacles just for the chance to educate themselves. The same girls who appear in We Will Rise came to Washington, D.C., for the International Day of the Girl festivities, which for them included a special screening of the film at the White House, with Mrs. Obama and Meryl Streep in attendance.
In a remark before the screening, Streep explained her inspiration for getting involved with the film. "Places that hold women back suffer," she explained. "And the places that empower women thrive." Glamour had the chance earlier in the day to talk to some of the women featured in the film, and we were just as inspired and moved by their stories as everyone who sees this documentary will be.
We got to meet Raphina Felee, 20, who lives in Liberia and participated in a Peace Corps program called Girls Leading Our World. When we asked her about how her typical school day looked, she explained that her day started long before classes. "Every morning I get up at 5 o'clock," she told Glamour. "I sweep the house and clean, and prepare food for my household, get my little brothers ready for school, go to the market," all before she can go to class. But when she does get there, she said her favorite subjects are biology and chemistry. “I want to be a medical doctor in the future,” she said. When asked about challenges facing girls and education in her country, she explained that because of the devastating Ebola outbreak in her country only a few years ago, many girls were left without anyone to support or even encourage them in their education. "Those girls feel like they have no one in society," she said.
Another young Liberian girl, 16 year-old Janet Jackson (in the documentary, Isha Sesay mentions the superstar she shares her name with), told us she had a similar morning routine, full of hard work before even setting foot in a classroom. But she was also very proud that when the class was asked about the previous day’s reading, she's often the first to speak. And while she’s a go-getter at school, her participation in International Day of the Girl is one of her favorite accomplishments. “I’m proud of myself that I get to meet the First Lady again, and step on this soil,” she said of visiting D.C. Tina Brown, also from Liberia, told us her favorite subject is general science, and despite having to wake up early to get her brother and sister ready for school — and though her family often picks paying her brother’s tuition over her own—she told us she still always tries her best in class to get ahead. "I focus," she said. "I'm working hard to graduate from senior high and go to university."
Fouzya Toukart, 20, came from a village where there was very little access to education, especially for girls. Though now she speaks five languages and talked to us about pursuing her Ph.D., she grew up having to take the bus several times a day to get to campus, and then get to work, and then go home and make dinner. Even so, she has already graduated university and gotten a BA in English. “I’m preparing for my Masters in Advanced English,” she said. “And I’m preparing for a Fulbright, too.” She told us that she’s the first girl from her village to get so far in her education. When asked what the biggest obstacle to education facing girls in her community was, she told us, “Gender discrimination. Girls don’t have the right to study, they only have the right to be like a machine—cleaning and so on. I faced all of these problems, and they still face them.” Still, she said that things have gotten a little easier for girls in her village since she first started going to school—largely thanks to better transportation to help girls get to class. “I have a hope that the things that are coming are going to be beautiful,” she said.
At just 13, Hanane Amyour quickly overcame her shyness when she spoke to Glamour through a translator. She told us about her love of sports, which she can play thanks to her participation in Project Soar, a U.S. nonprofit operating in Morocco that gets some help from Peace Corps volunteers. She said one of the hardest thing about getting girls educated in her rural village is the distance they have to travel for school. “ A fellow Moroccan girl, Karima Lakouz, spoke English with an incredible confidence. She was a participant in the State Department’s TechGirls initiative, and told Glamour that her “specialty” is mechanical engineering, and her favorite subjects are technology and industrial science. She listed a whole host of reasons that girls have trouble accessing education in rural Morocco, where she’s from. “
We have the distance—either the school is so far away or there is no school,” she said. “We have the parents’ mentality, who are very conservative. They say that school is only for boys because boys are going to work, and that stereotype. A girl’s place is her house. She is destined to get married, to have children, she’s just a machine for reproduction. I think that, and also financial support. Because there are some people who really want to learn, who really want to go to school, but they don’t have the means to do that.” Still, she’s very optimistic, and hopes that every girl in her country will get the educate they deserve.
“I hope that the boys in the country, the men, will realize that any country’s development is up to how much they value their women, and that they will unite with women and help them and realize their importance,” she says. “I just want every girl to be as comfortable as she [can] and to be the woman she wants to be.” After the White House screening, Mrs. Obama addressed the crowd about the importance of continuing her work with Let Girls Learn. “This is work I plan to do for the rest of my life,” she said. And then she addressed the girls in the room. “Own this moment,” she told them. “And when times are hard, I want you to think about this day and think about all the people in the world who care deeply and are invested in you. You are not alone.” But, she told them, their end of the bargain wasn’t finished. “You have to do your part,” she said. “You go back [to your countries], you go to school, you get an education, you raise children, and you pass it on.”
More From Glamour:
• Michelle Obama Expressed the Horror We're All Feeling About Donald Trump's Treatment of Women
• Watch: Glamour Celebrates International Day of the Girl With First Lady Michelle Obama
• Michelle Obama and Yara Shahidi Talk Girls' Education, Self-Esteem and Being Called "Aggressive"
• This Must-See Documentary Offers a Raw, Unfiltered View of Abortion From All Sides
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Glamour